04 March 2016

San Bernardino DA Uses the Chewbacca Defense

The San Bernardino District Attorney told a federal judge late Thursday that Apple must assist the authorities in unlocking the iPhone used by Syed Farook, one of the two San Bernardino shooters that killed 14 people in a killing rampage in December. The phone, which was a county work phone issued to Farook as part of his Health Department duties, may have been the trigger to unleash a "cyber pathogen," county prosecutors said in a brief court filing.

"The iPhone is a county owned telephone that may have connected to the San Bernardino County computer network. The seized iPhone may contain evidence that can only be found on the seized phone that it was used as a weapon to introduce a lying dormant cyber pathogen that endangers San Bernardino's infrastructure," according to a court filing (PDF) by Michael Ramos, the San Bernardino County district attorney.

The development represents the first time any law enforcement official connected to the investigation provided an indication, other than links to possible co-conspirators, of what the authorities might discover on the phone. The district attorney's position comes a week after Jarrod Burguan, the San Bernardino police chief, said there was a "reasonably good chance that there is nothing of any value on the phone." James Comey, the FBI director, said Feb, 21 that "Maybe the phone holds the clue to finding more terrorists. Maybe it doesn't."

The county declined to directly comment. A spokesman, David Wert, told Ars in an e-mail that "The county didn't have anything to do with this brief. It was filed by the district attorney." The DA's office, which did not immediately respond for comment, followed up with a statement to Ars, saying that there is a "compelling governmental interest in acquiring any evidence of criminal conduct, additional perpetrators, potential damage to the infrastructure of San Bernardino County, and in protecting the California Constitutionally guaranteed due process rights of the victims, deceased and living, arising from state crimes committed on December 2, 2015."

Jonathan Zdziarski, a prominent iPhone forensics expert, said in a telephone interview that the district attorney is suggesting that a "magical unicorn might exist on this phone."
OK, it might not be an apocalyptic computer virus, it might just be a "magical unicorn", or some other mythical beast, like a moderate Republican or a humble Frenchman.

This is a level of mendacity that should have the judge issuing sanctions against the DA.  (Some jail time would be nice)


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